Gameday

Pre-match Report: What to watch for against Reading

Follow us on Twitter @claretandview // Words by Mark Jirobe (@VillaMarkPGH)

After a woeful time against Cardiff City at the weekend resulting in a 3-0 loss, Steve Bruce and his Aston Villa side travel to clash with Reading in their third league game of the campaign. Reading come into the match with the same record as Aston Villa, drawing a game and losing a game in the early stages of the EFL season. Steve Bruce will undoubtedly yearn for a win as talks of his sacking after the Cardiff loss have heavily intensified with Aston Villa supporters. Adding to the drama of this specific fixture, Villa have sold Leandro Bacuna to Reading for a fee rumoured to be around 3 million pounds. However, outside of Bacuna, let’s dive into the Reading squad and see exactly what Aston Villa will be up against. 

Standing on the touchline for Reading is Dutch-born Jaap Stam. Having somewhat of a controversial playing career that saw him play for the likes of Manchester United, Lazio and Ajax, Stam has turned out to be a pretty consistent head coach so far for The Royals. Since signing a contract with Reading in June 2016, Stam took Reading all the way to the EFL Championship Playoffs and has boasted a 52.6% win percentage to this point. Reading rewarded Stam with a 2 year contract extension after bowing out of the playoff run, and Stam seems hellbent to pay back the Reading owners’ faith in his coaching ability. 

Stam has a compliment of decent Championship players at his disposal for selection this year. Looking back on the Reading squad of last season that finished 3rd on the table, the one statistic that stands out is their 81% passing accuracy. Villa has struggled against teams who pass the ball extraordinarily well, and the likes of Roy Beerens, Garath McCleary, and George Evans could all spell trouble for Aston Villa if selected. All of the aforementioned players are very adept at passing, while maintaining proper tempo and technique in the middle of the park. Irish midfielder Liam Kelly is coming off of a Man Of The Match performance against Fulham. In that game, Kelly had a blazing seven shots, a goal and a 91% passing accuracy. This sticky situation might see Steve Bruce select a more defensive midfield option, most likely in the form of Glenn Whelan. 

Reading captain and central defender Paul McShane will do his due diligence at the back and keep things as tight as possible as usual. The 31 year old played in 30 games last year, and there is no reason to see Jaap Stam dropping him any time soon. McShane is known to get a little heated on the pitch, identifiable by his red card in the EFL Playoff Semi-Final against Fulham last year. Looking to get back on track after dropping out of the playoffs, McShane seems to be regularly flanked with right-back Tiago Ilori. Aston Villa supporters may recognise that name from the Remi Garde regime. Ilori was then playing for Liverpool and was loaned to Villa for a fee of around one million pounds. Although he never played a single minute for Villa, one would have to think what could have happened if Ilori received playing time after falling out of favour at Liverpool. Ilori has great athletic ability and aggression that sometimes goes over the edge. He has already picked up a red card and a yellow card two games into Readings’ push to get back into the playoffs. 

Of the 63 goals Reading conceded last season, only 16 were conceded at the Madejski Stadium. If Steve Bruce is to finally get a grip on his club and the lack of away form, there is much work to be done if it is to happen against Reading. Reading also scored 35 goals at home last year, which begs the question: “Does Villa have a realistic chance of taking points from this game?” The seat is starting to become warm for Steve Bruce, and this will be real test to see what he has done to change things in only three days after the Cardiff result.

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